It looks like app stores are coming to a desktop near you, which means a lot of changes for how IT provisions, purchases and manages software, for better and worse.
A few years ago, I took a look at mobile phone app stores: They were all the rage at the time, and telecom companies (and the vendors that love them) were making big noise about how traditional mobile operators were working hard to re-capture their dominance in this space.
It didn’t quite happen like that, even though app stores have come to dominate: A lively ecosystem can help push a platform to the top (iPhone, Android) while a weak one can send it to the dustbins of history (WebOS). While I’m not going to argue that app stores are the factor that decides whether a mobile platform succeeds, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone credible who says that a good store (and, more importantly, a good developer base that likes the store) isn’t important.
But instead of app stores giving carriers a new revenue stream – and the important role as gatekeeper of what can and can’t run on their networks – tech giants Google, Apple and, to a lesser extent, Amazon have dominated. It now looks like Microsoft will be joining their ranks and helping push this paradigm to the desktop.
Metro apps for Windows 8 will be available only through Microsoft’s own store, the company said at its BUILD Windows conference last week.
But although Microsoft went to pains to say that it would not discuss the business end of the app store — including what percentage the company will return to developers — a primer of the download market published by Microsoft said that it, like Apple, will take a 30% cut of all sales.
Last week, Microsoft confirmed that the Windows Store — the official name for what executives have referred to as “our Windows app store” — will be the sole distribution channel for Metro apps, those that run in the Metro interface in Windows 8 on Intel-powered devices, and the only ones that will be permitted on ARM-based Windows 8 tablets.
The move isn’t entirely surprising, but with Metro apps poised to become the “standard” for Windows and Apple heavily pushing its own desktop App Store, big changes are on the horizon.
- Enterprise is a priority – but probably a low one. Apple has made plenty of concessions to business use, but they’ve often been half-hearted and have always deferred to the interests of the end user. There will hopefully be a way to deploy apps to hundreds and thousands of desktops on day one for Windows 8, but don’t expect it to echo the ways you’ve been doing it for years and don’t expect it to have the fine-grained control you’re used to.
- A serious stance against malware. The generative Internet and the computers that love it have spawned a lot of innovation – particularly among bad guys who discover new ways to lure users with trojans, phishing attacks and other malware. The centralized App Stores have succeeded largely as a response to that, and while not perfect they go a long way towards cutting down on virus-laden apps working their way on to mobile devices. Expect similar security fringe benefits when users can no longer download and run executables willy-nilly.
- A more consistent, modern environment. Microsoft is serious about Metro as a new beginning. Yes, there’s legacy Windows support on most of the machines, but Metro is the way forward and, in that environment, a lot of cruft is being discarded. This should mean a less hacky, frustrating life for a system administrator – over time.
- New Purchasing Models. At VMworld, VMware debuted a slick new app store that included web apps, desktop apps, and virtualized environments. The elements in the app store were approved by IT – but chosen and deployed by users. Expect a similar model to come to a department near you, and be prepared to train and budget based on a flexible architecture that gives users more control, while still providing IT oversight.